Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman, Career Missionary to Leipzig and Russia shares with us his sermon for The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene. The sermon was preached on July 20, 2016 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Lincoln, NE during Home Service (the feast day was transferred for the Wednesday night service).
Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church-Lincoln, NE
St. Mary Magdalene (Observed)
20 July 2016
Now is the Time to Cling
“Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’”. Translation: “This is not a time for clinging. When I have bodily ascended—completely out of your sight—that is the time for clinging. Further translation: when you’ve got a Jesus who ascended into heaven—completely out of sight, on his terms—then and only then do you even have a Jesus to cling to.
While that is odd, it is refreshingly so. Without an ascended Jesus—which is to also say, without a resurrected Jesus, which is also to say a crucified Jesus—you would be in the same place as Mary Magdalene and the apostles: left exclusively to your personal devotion to Jesus, and to the place where your devotion tells you he ought to be and yet is not. Without a resurrected Jesus, you, like Mary, would epitomize a life marked completely by unwavering and steadfast devotion to Jesus and yet, in doing so, would manifest a life that is in every respect faithless to him. Mary’s devotion, as well as that of the apostles, told them loud and clear where Jesus ought to be: namely, his grave. Their devotion led them to Golgotha, and led them to take note where his body would remain—so much so that when his body was no longer there, inquiry was made with the ultimate aim of returning him there once he went “missing”—so great was Mary’s devotion. An ascending Jesus—which is to say, a resurrected Jesus, which is to say, a crucified Jesus—suddenly spares Mary and the apostles and really everyone of all of that. It’s odd in that you’ve got in this moment a Jesus-at-hand and viable for clinging, and yet now’s not the time. Yet, it’s refreshing in that you’re no longer left to your own devices, and more importantly, you’re no longer enslaved to the place where your devices inevitably take you, and most importantly, that Jesus is nowhere to be found where your personal devotion dictates where he should be, nor can he be brought there again.
If Mary Magdalene can be shorn of the shackles of personal devotion hell-bent on death and the grave and be brought out of such enslavement into a life of actual faithfulness, into a life of actually hearing and listening to and remembering and trusting and cherishing the bare words of Jesus for our advanced knowledge, our awareness, and ultimately our comfort and salvation, words that he reiterates for us again and again and again, so also can it be for the apostles, and so also for you and for me. And not only can it be, it is so. After all, the Jesus we have is an ascended one, seated at the right hand of our Father and his and our God and his. An ascended Jesus is one who gives us his Spirit to remind us of everything that he has said to us, and to bring us to actually and joyfully hear, understand, and believe what he is saying to us—all to bring us advanced consciousness of these things, and ultimately to comfort and console and save us.
There in that place is where a devoted clinging to the Lord Jesus on your own terms is shown the exit door, never to appear again, and faithful clinging to the Lord Jesus on his terms occurs, never to cease. Jesus did not ascend into heaven for us to carry on with our own ideas, our own ways of thinking, and our own ways of describing the Lord Jesus, for us to look for him or expect him to be where he has not promised to be found (and especially in places where he has expressly promised not to be!), or seek to place him there because we think he should be there. Jesus ascended into heaven, so that, by his Spirit, we would have and operated with his ideas, use his ways of thinking and description, and to eagerly seek him out where he has promised to be found.
Which means, ultimately, that Jesus ascended into heaven for you and I to cling to him. Now, with Jesus having ascended to our Father and his and our God and his, now is the time to cling to him. Now, with Jesus completely out of sight, and with us completely left to his terms, now is the time to cling to him—which is to say, now is the time to cling to him when and where he has promised to be found. Which doesn’t bode so well for our personal devotion, as we have already begun to see from the narrative of Mary Magdalene, but does bode well for our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our souls—places where Jesus’ own words love to live and move and have their being.
And if there’s anything to the ascended Jesus (and there is), it is a promise—a promise that proceeds from a risen body—which is to say, a crucified body—that goes where it will, that bids you touch him to fully come to terms with everything that he said to you about what needed to happen—namely, that “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled,” that opens your minds to understand what he reiterates yet again: “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness of sins be proclaimed in his name to all nations,” all of which Mary Magdalene serves as the first witness, a status in which we join her. It is a promise from his Father and ours and his God and ours that he sends upon Mary and the apostles and us, a power clothing us from on high.
It is a promise that has no room for devotion, but all the room in the world for faithfulness, which means that it is a promise replete with nothing but the words of Jesus himself: baptized as you are and taught in the ways of Jesus as you are, you are a disciple of Jesus himself, beyond a shadow of a doubt, and that he is with you always, beyond a shadow of a doubt; hearing the Lord’s words of those in apostolic ministry, you are hearing the Lord himself; that bread that you eat and that wine that you drink is none other than the very body and blood of Jesus himself, given and shed for you to wipe your slate of sin completely clean.
It is to these words, and thus to this promise, and thus to this ascended Jesus completely out of sight that we cling—on his gracious terms, even here, even now; no longer left to our own devices, and more importantly, no longer enslaved to the place where those devices inevitably take us, and most importantly, finding ourselves where Jesus himself is and will always be found and grasped—in ways that will always be odd, and yet refreshingly so, to the praise and honor of his Father and ours, his God and ours.
- Learn more about Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman’s work in German, Russia and beyond.
- Pray for the Ahlman family as they wrap up Home Service and prepare to travel home to Leipzig.